Daffodil Bulb Care: The Top 5 Things You Need To Know

Recently my email box has been overflowing with questions from readers worried about the unusually warm winter we’ve been experiencing. Many of the questions center on daffodils, in particular, what to do with unruly bulbs. In replying, I first spoke with a few of my local nursery experts to gain their opinion. Following are five of my readers’ top concerns about daffodil bulbs and what to do about them.

MY DAFFODIL BULBS ARE COMING UP TOO EARLY

This is a tricky one. Bulbs are built to weather a winter warm spell – they may sprout foliage a little early, but as long as there aren’t flowers, the leaves will die back with the return of cold weather. The important thing to remember is that even if you see foliage, flowers take another 5 weeks to appear. By then, the bulbs have most likely resumed their dormancy.

This year, however, many areas of the country are experiencing an unusually warm winter. Here in Maryland, the soil never froze. As a result, daffodils and other bulbs are coming up early. It may be unsettling to see such early flowers, but the bulbs will survive (assuming you leave them undisturbed.) Let’s all hope for better luck next year.

DO MY DAFFODIL BULBS NEED FEEDING?

Yes. Because the bulbs have used up the bulk of fall’s fertilizer to put on roots over the winter. Feed your daffodil bulbs in early spring with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer when foliage starts to appear. You can also scratch a small amount of granular food into the soil, but make sure to water it in well to avoid burning the bulbs. 

CAN I DIG THEM UP?

This depends. In late winter, it’s safe to dig them up and pot them when foliage has just broken through the soil. But if you dig them up any later, you risk causing severe damage to the bulb’s roots. Best to wait until after they flower and the leaves have turned yellow and decomposed. Then move them, or better still, wait to dig them up in the fall.

CAN I TRIM OFF THE LEAVES AFTER FLOWERING?

NO. The leaves are now manufacturing food for next year’s bulb through photosynthesis. This usually takes about 5 to 6 weeks. Leave the foliage on the plant until it yellows, then trim it to the ground. You can disguise ugly leaves by planting similar-leaved plants around your bulbs like daylilies. 

One way to neaten things up while you wait is to tie down the foliage. Catherine Moravec demonstrates how to do so in this helpful youtube video. Since I’m a designer, this is my preferred way to spruce things up.

However, not everyone’s a fan. Some say it can hinder the leaves’ ability to manufacture food for next year’s flowers by reducing the leaf area exposed to sunlight.

WHY AREN’T MY DAFFODIL BULBS BLOOMING?

According to the American Daffodil Society, there are a number of reasons why daffodils don’t bloom. Prime among them is cutting down the foliage too early. (I’ll note that they also recommend not tying down the foliage.)

Other factors may include lack of feeding, being planted in too much shade, or poor drainage (which often ends up rotting the bulbs.) Planting daffodil bulbs under heavy-feeding trees like evergreens or other fast-growing plants can also put them in competition for nutrients as well as reduce their flowering.

Lastly, transplanting can put stress on bulbs. If you moved yours recently, it make take them a year to adjust to their new environment. 

Got any other questions or concerns? Comment below and we’ll keep expanding on the discussion.

 

 

 

Finally, A ‘Phenomenal’ Lavender That Looks Good All Winter

They said it couldn’t be done, but finally, there’s a new type of lavender that looks good all winter. Appropriately dubbed ‘Phenomenal’, it’s so good, in fact, that it’s now being used for municipal plantings. To understand the hype, I bought three plants last year for a trial run. What I discovered was nothing short of, well, phenomenal.

A NEW DAY FOR LAVENDER

Who doesn’t love what’s exciting and new? This variety checks all the right boxes. Exceptionally tolerant of both hot and cold weather, Phenomenal lavender is built to withstand nature’s trials. Not only does it retain its foliage through the winter without dying back, it also stands up to humidity. And that’s no small feat for a species that hails from the dry, hot climates of Africa, Europe and Asia. 

But wait – there’s more! Phenomenal’s wands of deep purple flowers are highly fragrant, which according to its breeders, is due to the plant’s high oil content. Moreover, the flowers are darker than most traditional lavenders and they last longer; blooming from mid-summer all the way until fall.

The highly fragrant flower spikes of Phenomenal lavender

Phenomenal lavender’s flowers are highly fragrant.

But for me, Phenomenal’s strongest appeal lies in its hardiness. The plant looks amazing in winter, maintaining its silvery grey foliage atop a neat, compact mound. Here in Maryland it’s the beginning of February and, as you can see, my plants are still holding their own.

Phenomenal lavender foliage in winter

Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ in February

Now compare that to my Provence lavender, below.

Lavender 'Provence' in January

Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ in February

HEDGING YOUR BETS

So why is Phenomenal lavender being used in municipal plantings? First, because it requires little to no maintenance. Since it naturally forms bushy, rounded mounds, it seldom needs pruning. And in all but the coldest climates, its drought-tolerant foliage stays silvery-green all year round.

Furthermore, this variety is the ideal size. Topping out at 24 inches with a spread of just under 4 feet, it’s the perfect plant for hedging. Now, thanks to Phenomenal, we Americans can grow the classic, purple hedgerows that so remind us of France. And who doesn’t yearn for a taste of Provence?

Lavender hedge row

Who doesn’t long for a lavender hedgerow?

A PHENOMENALLY DRY SENSE OF HUMOR

Perhaps due to its growing popularity, lavender is now a denizen of most American gardens. Yet, I often find it planted in all the wrong places, in particular part-shade. Like all lavender varieties, Phenomenal needs full sun to thrive. That means 6 hours or more of direct sunlight a day.

Regardless of the variety, if your plant is located in part shade (or worse, shade), it isn’t happy. Consider transplanting it to an area of the garden where it can sunbathe daily. This will not only help it maintain its shape, but also ensure it produces masses of purple flowers for you to enjoy throughout the growing season.

Lavender balls

Healthy lavender plants look like this.

Once established, Phenomenal lavender (like all lavenders) is drought-tolerant. Unlike most perennials, it performs best in dry to medium, even poor, light soil. Excellent drainage and good air circulation are key.

And since lavender likes things dry, you should go easy on the mulch (whose job is to retain moisture.) Keep it away from the base of the plant, or better yet, consider mulches like ground shells or white gravel to reflect light back onto the plant and to allow for better drainage.

white gravel mulch

White gravel used as mulch.

Looking for more information on types of lavender and how to maintain them? Check out Soleado Lavender Farm, a family-owned business located in Dickerson, Maryland. It’s my go-to reference for all things lavender.

 

Spring Fever: How To Force Flowering Branches Indoors

Why wait for spring when you can experience it early indoors? Flowering trees and shrubs are a ‘natural’ for forcing. Why? Because their buds formed last year in late summer before they went dormant. All you have to do is cut some branches, bring them inside and follow the directions below.

HARVESTING THE FORCE OF NATURE

They may set their buds early, but spring-flowering trees and shrubs need a period of winter dormancy in order to bloom. By late winter, however, shorter nights are already encouraging them to resume growing. Generally, this means that by late February or early March it’s safe to cut some branches for forcing. In no time, you’ll be enjoying a profusion of spring flowers indoors. 

Forcing branches can take anywhere between 2 to 5 weeks, depending on the species. Early bloomers such as forsythia, star magnolia, quince, witch hazel and pussy willow are usually the fastest to flower at approximately 2 weeks. Cherry and dogwood tree branches, however, can take up to 4 weeks to develop, depending on when you cut them. In general, trees take longer than shrubs to force.

HINT:  The closer to a plant’s natural bloom time you cut the branches, the less time it will take to force flowers indoors.

A GUIDE TO FORCING FLOWERING BRANCHES

STEP 1

Start by selecting a few healthy, medium-sized branches with lots of plump buds that look ready to open. Cut the branches from the tree or shrub using a pair of pruners. Make sure to cut on a diagonal, which creates a greater surface area for water. 

Cornus alba buds

STEP 2

To protect your flowering branches from rot, remove any twigs or buds from the bottom 6 inches of the stem. Then do one of the following: either slit the branches in several directions at the ends or mash the branch ends against a hard surface. Both methods will cause the base of the branch to splay out and encourage it to draw up more water. It will also keep the branches fresher longer.

STEP 3

Submerge the branches overnight in cool to lukewarm water. (A bathtub works great.) This enables the branches and buds to more rapidly absorb water and to begin breaking their winter dormancy. 

The furry buds of pussy willow 

STEP 4

The following day, remove the branches from their bath and place them upright in a bucket or vase. Next, add warm water no higher than a few inches. Place the branches in a cool location away from direct sunlight. (Warm temperatures may cause the buds to develop too rapidly or fall off.) To limit bacterial growth, make sure to change the water every few days.

STEP 5

Once the buds begin to show color, arrange the branches in a container and place them in a bright spot away from direct sunlight. This will encourage the best flower color to develop. Make sure to keep them away from heat sources. As you might expect, spring-flowering branches bloom longer in cooler temperatures. 

Flowering quince

FORCING BRANCHES CAN SPAWN NEW PLANTS

Occasionally when forcing flowering branches, some will unexpectedly start sprouting roots. You can grow a new plant by removing the branch from water when the roots are approximately ½ inch long. Pot it up and trim the branch down to about 6 to 8 inches. When warmer weather arrives, plant it outdoors.

MOST POPULAR BRANCHES FOR FORCING

Below are some of the more popular flowering branches for forcing and the time it takes to force them indoors. Bear in mind that this represents the long end of the scale, assuming you start cutting your branches in February. Remember, you can shorten the forcing time by harvesting the branches closer to the plant’s natural bloom period.

Embellish your arrangements with foliage from large-leaved evergreens like mahonia, aucuba or magnolia for a stunning composition Just as in nature, these species are natural complements to all spring-flowering branches. 

 

Meet Stevia Rebaudiana: The Plant Behind the Hype

stevia rebaudiana

Stevia rebaudiana, the plant behind the popular sweetener

Last week, I was vacationing in Canada when an interesting commercial popped up on the television. It was an ad for the sweetener, stevia, and it featured enthusiastic users growing plants at home. Needless to say, it caught my attention. I had heard that stevia was derived from a ‘natural’ source. But I’d never stopped to consider what that meant from a gardening perspective.

I decided to dig deeper. Continue reading

10 New Year’s Resolutions For The 2020 Garden

Given my preference for long days spent in the garden, December 21 is always cause for celebration. That’s because from that point forward every day will get just a little longer. And with the return of the light, my mind is filled with thoughts of the garden and plans for what the New Year will bring. Continue reading

Mistletoe: The Poisonous Plant We Love To Hang At Christmas

European or Common mistletoe, Viscum album

For centuries, people have been hanging mistletoe as an expression of love and romance. Unfortunately though, the relationship is one-sided, as the plant doesn’t return the same feelings. Why?  Because mistletoe contains a Christmas cocktail of toxins that when ingested can be harmful to humans and pets. I’d advise keeping it out of reach if you’re planning to make it part of your holiday décor. Continue reading

5 Top Christmas Tree Types: A Guide To Finding Your Perfect Match

Every year is different when it comes to Christmas. But in my home, there is one thing that remains constant. When I shop for a tree, I always head straight for the Fraser firs. These are the trees I grew up with, and their fragrance reminds me of my childhood. And as we all know, memory is a key component in any holiday décor. Continue reading

The Story Of The Cornucopia: It’s All Greek To Me

Thanksgiving décor for my mother was a white linen tablecloth and fine crystal, but as a child I longed for something more. So as soon as I had my own household, I added the cornucopia. The sight of all those colorful fruits spilling from a basket filled my spirit with holiday joy. In my mind, the horn-shaped vessel seemed to embody the very essence of the harvest season.

That being said, I later discovered that the origins of the cornucopia had nothing to do with a basket, nor was it meant to contain fruit. It all started with a goat named Amalthea. Continue reading

Feed The Birds: 10 Plants With Great Winter Seedheads

Once flowers dry up in the vase, we tend to throw them in the garbage. But outdoors, it’s a whole different story. Not only do the seedheads of spent flowers bring beauty to the garden, but they also furnish food to hungry birds and wildlife. And those two reasons alone should cause us to think twice before we start cutting our plants back for the winter. Continue reading

A Beginner’s Guide To The Different Types Of Daffodils

Next week, I’ll be planting my daffodils in what has become for me an annual tradition. Why, you may ask, since they multiply so quickly? Well nowadays, daffodils come in an astonishing array of colors, shapes and sizes. So each year, I add a few more varieties to my garden, while savoring the list of further possibilities. Continue reading